The Second World War is a fading memory and America rules the world. Bill Bryson (2007) The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid: Travels Through My Childhood shows how it was won and it’s not on the front cover with a kid with a hard plastic hat painted silver, aerial attached, Pegasus’s ears pasted on, his face screwed up as he points a plastic ray gun of brightest gold, while behind him sparks fly and a surreal red and white star explodes, in an understated way, KAZAMS. Rather, it’s low key, black and white picture, double spread, to raise a chuckle, husband in his shirt and tie holding a metal shopping trolley, filled to the gunnels with food. His wife standing beside him, almost touching, holding hands, hat on her head, swing of handbag on the other arm, smiling at the camera to beat the world. Their son stands in front and to the right of them and the trolley, hands tucked inside the pockets of his thick jacket, cap on his head, smiling self-consciously. Behind the nuclear family food is stacked to the ceiling to show what the average American eats in a year. You bet they won the war, not only is their cup overflowing, everything else is too. Racks of meat and bird, eggs, milk, potatoes, veg, exotic bananas and every kind of fruit from the backyard of the world. To the victor the spoils.
Communist China is no longer communist. Chairman Mao his long walk and great leap forward forgotten. Loop past The Cultural Revolution to President of The People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping. Substitute a Chinese man and his wife in the picture. The One Child Maoist policies fallout dictates it’s likely to be a son standing in front of them. Racks of meat and bird, eggs, milk, potatoes, veg, exotic bananas and every kind of fruit from the backyard of the world. To the victor the spoils.
One nation takes plenty for granted. One nation plans for famine, remembers tens of millions starving when children banged pots and beat birds from the trees with sticks in the mistaken belief they ate crops. I recently went to a talk, and appropriately old-fashioned slide show (no fancy PowerPoint production) in the basement of Clydebank library given by Callum Christie. Christie in his book Goodbye Colonialism Farewell Feudalism, takes us back to a different century, Barotseland in (now Zambia) a Protectorate of the British Empire where he worked as a District Officer from 1959-1962. British film maker Amma Asante covers similar ground and is in the same time frame: A United Kingdom a romance between an African prince studying law and meeting a white woman in London, who he plans to marry, before returning to Bechanuland (which became Botswana) as king. My question to Christie was along the familiar lines of was colonialism a good thing? The answer, as you’d expect, differed from the George Orwell of Burmese Days. A British Protectorate was a good thing because it protected the people of Northern Rhodesia from the Arab traders and raids from other tribes that sold black people into slavery. Wrong century, but moving swiftly on. I asked about neo-colonialism and possible Chinese investment in Zambia. Copper mines in Zambia are one reason why Chinese investment helped pave the main roads through the country. But I’d guess the other reason is food, from a ‘Land of flooded valleys and rivers’. Africans may starve as millions did during the Irish potato famine of 1845 onwards, but food was still exported to the British paymasters. When the rains fail, Chinese still need to feed an estimated third of the world’s population of almost two billion.
You can see some of this posturing with Putin’s Russia sending submarines to plant flags on the seabed to claim disputed coastal water and the potential riches of fossil fuels and seafood for his nation. China is building atolls off its coast. The future is unknowable and we need to think and plan for it now.
There is no Second World War bomber droning overhead or the cry of ‘gas boys, gas,’ shouted from First World War trenches and no quick fix to the bleaching of coral, or the end of ice and dying of our kindred species. Another movie, another white, American hero, Tom Hanks as Sully in Clint Eastwood’s film. ‘This is the captain, brace for impact.’
Sullenberger had less than three minutes to decide where to land a plane that had no engines. Test pilots appointed by the Civil Aviation Authority in simulated flights were able to steady the falling plane and land it at La Guardia airport and not in the Hudson River.
Peter Wadhams in A Farewell to Ice accuses The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the same dishonourable tactics, running simulations until they get a palatable approximation of the truth. We’re all going to get back to La Guardia and brush our clothes down and step off that falling plane. Our blue planet keeps turning. I’m not going to be able to change things. But as a writer I’m obliged to read the small print and say this is the way it’s going to be.